Al Jefferson continued his exceptional offensive play with a 21-point first half over notoriously poor defender J.J. Hickson and his backup Timofey Mozgov. The rest of the team scored moderately well, too, but ran out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter not only because they pushed the ball effectively on fast breaks, but because of the focused defensive effort. Denver shot close to 30 percent from the field with the Bobcats rotating well to cut off the paint and limiting the Nuggets' scoring success from behind the arc.
But the other shoe dropped in the second quarter. The defense lapsed and permitted Randy Foye to break down the Bobcats for 15 points in the second quarter. Foye, filling in at point guard with Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson injured (Lawson with a strained left rotator cuff, Robinson with a knee sprain suffered in the first quarter), excelled with his smooth jumper and ability to handle the ball as he probed the defense for scoring chances inside.
Al Jefferson was terrific on offense but the Nuggets managed to get him out of position on defense in the pick and roll. The Bobcats' offense wasn't awful but it was still pretty much Al Jefferson vs. The World, which has been fairly effectively as of late, but still isn't the most efficient offense possible that capitalizes on spacing to open up opportunities for all players, including Jefferson. He did well, though the Nuggets eventually brought double-teams to help cover him, but the lack of shooting continues to be an issue.
The Bobcats lost their lead on the first defensive possession in the second half as both teams went back-and-forth trading leads in the third quarter. Turnovers hurt the Bobcats as they carried an unhealthy differential in the quarter between them and the Nuggets, but Denver couldn't capitalize enough to take a big lead. Evan Fournier became a big problem for the Bobcats in the third. Fournier got started off cuts and layups and later hit a three. To make matters worse, Al Jefferson grabbed his fourth foul and suffered a slight right shoulder injury late in the quarter that forced him to the bench to rest with a heat pack. He eventually had it removed and would return to the game later, but the Bobcats' offense had difficulty finding a rhythm without him. Regardless, the Nuggets couldn't take advantage and both teams limped into the fourth quarter tied at 75.
As is always the case early in the fourth, the Bobcats fought mightily to keep the game close with their bench as Clifford tried to manage playing time well to give the starters enough rest. The bench did fine - Biyombo rebounded well and even made both of his free throws, Pargo was Pargoin' - but most of the good was defensively. They turned the ball over a bit too much and simply didn't have the scoring talent that could have given Charlotte some more space to work with as they waited for their starters to rest.
The Nuggets continued the Randy Foye Show as Foye inched his season-best scoring performance higher bucket by bucket. Denver was also determined to keep working at their three-point shots, eventually getting makes by Foye and Wilson Chandler to keep the lead switching hands as the Bobcats got their own big buckets from Gerald Henderson.
Al Jefferson was once again stellar, and he's making his Al(l)-Star case as loud as possible with Kemba Walker out and the brunt of the team's offensive output riding on his back. He's not normally a threat to draw fouls at a high rate, but he went to the line for 12 free throw attempts tonight. All told, he had 35 points and tied the Bobcats franchise record for consecutive 20-point games with 10. He played the hero tonight taking Mozgov one-on-one from about 10-12 feet out, spinning to face up with his signature push shot that tickled the net with just under 24 seconds remaining.
Down three, with nearly an entire shot clock to work with, the Nuggets foolishly tried a cross-court inbounds pass. Though Foye caught it, his right foot was just barely out of bounds and the Bobcats got possession and were promptly fouled. They made one of two to go up 99-95.
Denver rushed up the court for a difficult hurried corner three to get within a point. They fouled Gerald Henderson quickly, who then missed one of his free throws, making it just a two-point game.
The Nuggets inbounded the ball to Fournier, who drove down the lane on the right side before falling as he spun to the left, flipping up a wild layup that Mozgov picked up. Threatening to tie the game, Mozgov looked for the easy putback layup. But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added his own heroics, coming from the weak side behind him to block the attempt with only two seconds left.
The Bobcats clinched the win with a free throw from Al Jefferson to give the Bobcats their fifth win against a West Coast team, and their second road win against one.
The other thing worth noting tonight is that Clifford trusted his need for defense late in the game more than for offense, bucking a trend of opting for Anthony Tolliver and his floor-spacing capabilities on offense for Kidd-Gilchrist's defensive strengths. It certainly paid off tonight.